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Times editorial

Deerwood Academy founder gets an F in responsibility

The founder of defunct Deerwood Academy never has added a fourth R to his personal curriculum: Responsibility. Henry Johnson blamed the Pasco School District for his charter school's demise; characterized the actions of the late Superintendent John Long as unprofessional, the late chief financial officer Charles Rushe as an obstructionist, other district officials as uncommunicative and their financial safeguards as absurd.

Johnson took his search for a scapegoat to Pasco Circuit Court this week, pointing fingers, while under oath, at everyone but himself and the thief he allowed to pilfer tens of thousands of dollars of public money during the school's two-year existence.

The result of Johnson's inattentiveness is well-documented. He put convicted con man Jeffrey Alcantara in charge of running the school's day-to-day operations. He even allowed Alcantara to hang around and be paid after he resigned when a background check revealed an extensive criminal history of fraud and drug charges.

Here's a sample of how Deerwood spent public money:

A $10.60 purchase of plumbing equipment was parlayed into a $2,700.60 reimbursement. A defunct Clearwater company submitted $29,000 in invoices for air conditioning service never performed. Another air conditioning company did only minor work at the school building, but someone submitted nearly $39,000 in receipts in the company's name for payment. Deerwood has no vehicles, but spent $600 at Tire Kingdom. A school credit card in Johnson's name was billed for a $250 political contribution to the Republican Congressional Committee. Someone ran up a $121 tab at Hooters Restaurant.

A 2005 plea bargain sent Alcantara to prison on a racketeering charge for the embezzled funds.

"Did this ruin Deerwood Academy? Absolutely not,'' Johnson testified Monday afternoon.

Deerwood obviously didn't stress logic and critical thinking as attested to by Johnson's statement that he accepted Alcantara's explanation for his criminal record: A three-month term in a Club Med-like facility for a federal tax dispute.

Johnson saved his criticism for Pasco School District administrators. He blamed them for the school shutting down in 2003, saying they improperly withheld a $138,000 federal grant to which the school was entitled. The district countersued saying it double-paid to educate the Deerwood students by placing them elsewhere when the charter school closed.

If Johnson's goal was to salvage his reputation, this didn't do it. He even blamed the school district for the court fight, saying its attorney wouldn't negotiate.

With good reason. There is no justification for rewarding incompetency.

Deerwood Academy founder gets an F in responsibility 04/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 18, 2008 2:00pm]
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